UNICEF strives to help Papua New Guinea break cycle of violence
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 14 August 2008 – UNICEF is at the forefront of a nationwide effort to end domestic and gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea.
Recent studies show that violence towards women and children is endemic in the country. For UNICEF, a major priority is to have this cycle of abuse identified as a public health crisis.
According to UNICEF’s Regional Office for East Asia and the Pacific and local advocates, Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of family violence in the world. Three-quarters of children and two-thirds of women reportedly have experienced violence in their homes.
Rape is under-reported
Papua New Guinea also has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence.
“The scope is broad and large,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Papua New Guinea, Hamish Young. “Police say that 8 per cent of women have been raped, but rape is an under-reported crime, so the reality is certainly much higher.”
Nearly half of reported rape victims are under age 15, and 13 per cent are younger than age 7.
Harmful traditional practices
The causes of such widespread violence are complex, but among the contributing factors are the country’s traditional tribal practices, which relegate women to the status of chattel. The practice of paying a bride price is still widespread. As a result, it is difficult for a married woman who experiences violence to return to her own family, let alone look to them for assistance or protection.
In addition, Papua New Guinean women have almost no political voice.
“Women are excluded from political processes at all levels – from village, district, right up to the national level,” said Mr. Young. “There’s only one woman in Parliament.”
Modest achievements, work to do
Papua New Guinea’s leadership has shown a commitment to breaking this cycle. The government has instituted several legal reforms, including amendments to the Criminal Code that remove marriage as the basis for a husband’s defense against charges of raping his wife. Changes to the Evidence Act protect the identity of survivors when testifying.
A Child Protection Act, recently passed, introduces a broad range of measures to ensure children’s rights. And UNICEF is working with the government to develop Child Protection Councils and to establish a data collection system. UNICEF is also helping to develop a national strategy on family and sexual violence.
“It’s a bleak situation, but there is definitely the political will to address it,” said Mr. Young. “There have been modest achievements to date, but definitely a lot more work needs to be done.”
8 August 2008: